I made quince paste today, using a recipe written out for me by the neighbour who first introduced me to the fruit. There are countless recipes for quince paste online, and they’re all similar. But the recipe I use is something special. Though it doesn’t diverge much from other recipes, the rambling missive concludes by saying the paste is ready when it “parts like the red sea” around the spoon as you stir.
You just don’t find descriptions like that in proper cookbooks. All the character has been edited out by the time a cookbook goes to print. All the personality in a recipe has been smothered by detailed directions and precise quantities, honed in spotless test kitchens.
Cooking in real life is never quite so orderly or linear as it is presented in cook books. Personal and family recipes reflect that reality.
A recipe from my husband’s family has you form cookie dough into long rolls and refrigerate it overnight. Then it simply says “Bake in hot oven.” As an afterthought, it says “Note–cut slices off roll.”
As I flip through my own handwritten recipes for dishes I’ve invented or modified, I find similar directions that would never pass muster with an editor. For parslied tomato soup, I wrote, “simmer until tomatoes disintegrate and consistency is souplike.”
Then there’s the recipe for lasagna noodles. In it’s entirety, “3 c. semolina + 2 eggs.” And the spinach feta quiche recipe which states the quantity of fresh spinach needed as “fill dish pan to overflowing”. And the pizza dough recipe that calls for a “bit of honey.”
I’ve sometimes considered creating a proper cookbook from my recipes, but then I look at my scribbled notes and think that, to form them into recipes that would pass an editor’s muster, I would have to destroy their spirit.
So, here’s to all those messy, scribbled recipes, passed from person to person and written for real kitchens. May they never be constrained by the covers of a book.